Hello dear ones,
It has been a very heavy few weeks. I had written a list here of the places where there’s been recent violence when I started this essay a week and a half ago, but the list just keeps growing. Can you hear the world groaning under the weight of all the turmoil?
Have you, like me, felt overwhelmed in the past weeks, pinned down by our seeming impotence against the systems and forces that are literally killing human beings among us simply for the color of their skin? Did you want to pull up the covers and hide? I know I did. Did you feel scared to push back for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing? Me too.
Simultaneously I have been heartened by the responses of people around me. Led by the efforts of black and brown people, white friends and family are coming to consciousness about the grave consequences of being black in America, and it seems to me that we are speaking out and showing up for racial justice as never before.
I want to mention that amidst all the good work I’ve been witnessing, I’ve also been disturbed by a sentiment that I’ve been hearing from some in the yoga world, namely that we are “all one”, a unified human race, and that the idea of "other" is an illusion. While I agree with this on a fundamental level, avoiding racial injustices in the name of “spirituality” invisibilizes the very very different experiences we have based on our skin color. I long for a world in which we are not separated by race, gender, class, sexuality, or any other social marker, but we have work to do before we will actually live in that world, and pretending that we don’t is a perilous proposition.
The question I keep hearing from my white friends is “What can I do?”. I know this question comes from a place of love and frustration and of wanting to help, but often this question is tangled in fear, too, of not wanting to mess up or say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. I should note here that what follows is a call to my fellow white people who see the horror of the world and know we have to do something about it.
It’s true that we (white people) definitely can’t assume we know what’s best for black people, and we always need to move with intention and accountability. But now is not the time for hesitation, platitudes and hand-wringing. Now is a time to do whatever is in your power to change the situation. Here are three mental shifts and skills derived from the yoga practice to help you come out from under the duvet and hit the streets (literally or not.)
1. Listen deeply.
One major skill I’ve gained from practicing yoga is mindfulness: the ability to stay present and listen deeply, to breathe one breath and then another without shying away from your feelings, no matter how unpleasant. Use this skill now. Listen deeply to the many people of color have been writing and talking for years, decades and centuries about the role that white people can play in moving towards justice.
Read their books and blogs. Listen to their podcasts. Educate yourself. Do your own work. Continue to listen even and especially when you feel uncomfortable. Ask white friends who have been doing this work for help when you need it. Listen deeply to the voices of people of color who have already spoken out about how we can all work to undo racism.
For a long time I felt like I needed people of color to instruct me in what to do about systemic racism. Let’s all do our best not to take up the time or energy of our black friends and loved ones with questions or pleas for instruction, not because we shouldn’t listen to them (because we should!), but because many black and brown people have already stated what white people can do to help.
2. You have all the tools you need.
Yoga has taught me that we have everything we need inside us. You don’t have to add anything to who you fundamentally are in order to do the work of furthering justice (or being human, for that matter). I want to repeat that: YOU HAVE ALL THE TOOLS YOU NEED. I don’t mean that you do not have learning or growing to do, because we all do. I mean that you already have the necessary skills to begin to undo racism and dismantle systemic white supremacy. We can’t do everything but we must do something.
So ask yourself, what do I already know how to do that might be of use to the movement? Can you think of organizations that you might be able to offer your skills to? The movement needs protestors, but it also needs lawyers and nurses and massage therapists (it realllly needs some massage therapists.) Can you cook food for protesters? Maybe you’re a whiz at social media. Use the skills you already have to get involved.
Maybe you don’t have a specialized skill to offer but you have a car that you could use to give people rides to meetings. Maybe you can volunteer a few hours a month to make phone calls or do childcare. Maybe you can give your money monthly to organizations doing the work with the communities most affected.
Perhaps you have a platform to talk about racial justice with a wider audience (*ahem* like how I’m using this newsletter to talk to all 300 of you). It could be your email list, your co-workers, your boo or your family. Anytime you have the opportunity, use the tools you’ve already got: your voice, your brain, and your heart.
3. It’s a lifelong practice.
There is a frenzy of activity happening in this moment around racial justice and it’s easy to get swept up in the social media wave, or the adrenaline of protesting. But it’s equally important to think about what we can do on a regular basis. It has taken us centuries to build and bolster the system of white supremacy. It won’t be dismantled overnight.
Similarly, if we practice yoga only intermittently, change comes slowly. When we commit to practicing regularly, there begins to be an urgency built into our practice that propels us along. Use this principle in your approach to activism. Consider what you can do regularly and what you can sustain long-term. Think about how you can show up for justice even when there’s no march or rally. What can you commit to doing in the long-term?
In addition, this approach relieves some of the pressure you might feel to need to do your activism perfectly. In the asana practice we may fall many times when learning a particular pose, but we keep practicing! If you think of each action you take towards justice as simply one point on a timeline of many actions you have taken and will take, then you’ll be better able to take in stride any stumbles or missteps.
Ultimately we’ll be more empowered to take useful, measured risks. Ask yourself: What can I do that is risky? What can I do that makes me uncomfortable? It might be showing up to a march or a rally. It might be initiating a difficult conversation with your parents. It might be simply sitting with your own discomfort around these issues.
Black people and people of color have been doing this work for centuries, and there have been white people there all along, though it’s often been concealed. (<--- Ask yourself why this might be.) We have access to power and privilege and influence that quite often black people simply don’t have, so while it’s dangerous and harmful to make ourselves the center of the story, we must become a part of the narrative.
So listen well, apply what you’ve already got, and commit to the work of justice for the long-term. Our voices, skills, and resources are needed in this moment, and it’s time for us to rise to the occasion. Every small action counts. We cannot lose.
Want to talk more about any of this? Got feedback about something I’ve written? Need more resources? Don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to hear from you!